Spring cleaning animal style

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I keep my hard drive reasonably well-organized. But every once in awhile I do a little spring cleaning. Get rid of the junk, eliminate duplicates, re-arrange folders.

I’m sure you do the same.

At some point, you might want to do something more radical: empty your hard drive and fill it up again from scratch.

Like this:

Move the contents of your hard drive into one temporary folder. Go through that folder and only “put back” the stuff you know you’ll need and use. It’s like cleaning out your clothes closet. The best way to do that is to remove everything and only put back the clothes you still wear, making room for new clothes.

If you don’t want to do this with your hard drive, you could do it for your note and task apps. Set up a new Evernote account, for example, and add back selected notes from your old account.

As you do this, you’ll look at everything with fresh eyes. Your old notes will give you “new” ideas. You’ll re-evaluate your priorities and make your workspace more efficient. You’ll revisit past victories, smile at past mistakes, and discover things you didn’t know you knew.

Bottom line: you’ll be better organized, more productive and ready for some new ideas to fill up the empty space you just created.

Have you read Evernote For Lawyers?

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Are you willing to take my challenge?

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You’ve heard me preach about why you should prioritize important tasks and projects over everything else. Do your “most important tasks” because they will help you achieve your most important goals.

Today, I want to issue a challenge.

If you take my challenge and are faithful to it, you will make steady progress towards accomplishing your biggest goal.

And yet the challenge is simple.

Every day, without fail, do one task related to your biggest goal. You can do more than one, just make sure that you always do at least one.

The task might be big or it might be small. It doesn’t matter. Read an article. Make some notes. Make a phone call. Anything. Just do something that helps you move forward.

It could even be an action to remove something that blocks or slows your progress or sucks up time that could be used to work on your big goal. It might be valuable or important, urgent even, but if it distracts you from or slows your progress towards what’s most important, you should eliminate it, delegate it, or automate it.

The habit of doing something every day to move you towards your big goal will condition your brain to prioritize your big goal, think about it, and find more things you can do to achieve it.

So, are you ready to take my challenge?

What is your big goal? The ONE THING you want to be, do, or have more than anything else?

Whatever it is, identify a list of related tasks and do at least one of them every day.

If you want to get more referrals, your first task should be to get this

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When is good enough good enough?

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When is the document you drafted good enough to file? When is the letter you wrote good enough to mail? When is your case prepared enough to take to trial?

I don’t know but you do.

Maybe not consciously, more like a feeling in your gut. You know something isn’t perfect but you know, somehow, that it’s good enough.

One thing’s for sure, when you have a deadline, the notion of what’s good enough gets hazier. You’ve got to get it done or there will be consequences so you get it done. It is deemed good enough because it has to be.

In a pleasant bit of irony, the pressure of a deadline doesn’t necessarily cause more errors. Instead, it often allows you to cut through the fog and quickly find the right path. When you don’t have time for minutia, it’s easier to zero in on what’s important.

So good enough is a relative term. It means different things under different circumstances. How do you get comfortable with this murkiness? I think it comes down to understanding a few things:

  • Good enough really is good enough. You will get most things right most of the time. Most of what you fear will never happen.
  • While many errors are embarrassing, most aren’t fatal. If you can’t fix something, you’ve got insurance to protect you from the worst case scenario.
  • You can minimize problems with checklists, forms, templates, and boilerplate language, and by having another set of eyes edit or at least look at your work product.
  • You’ll get better over time. Experience will help you minimize errors and improve your ability to make decisions. You’ll also get things done faster because you’ve done the same thing so often.

Ultimately, the best way to find out if something is good enough is to release it into the world. The world (your clients, your opposition, your target market) will tell you if something is good enough. Most of the time, the answer will be in the affirmative.

Are you getting paid for all of your work? This can help

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How many hours a week do you work?

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How many hours a week do you work? Probably more than you would like and more than you should:

A recent Gallup poll found that the average full-time employee in the US works a 47-hour week, nearly a full workday longer than the standard nine-to-five schedule. Moreover, nearly one in five workers (18%) reports working 60 hours or more per week. [cite]

I’m pretty sure attorneys work even longer hours.

The question is, are longer hours worth it? Are you getting more done? Earning more income? And, considering your health, your family, and your overall quality of life, is it really worth it?

That’s for you to decide, of course, but there is a point of diminishing returns:

A Stanford University study found that employee output declines sharply after 50 hours per week and nosedives after 56 hours to the point where someone who puts in 70 hours doesn’t produce anything more with those additional 14 hours. Similar studies have linked long hours with absenteeism, long-term memory loss and impaired decision-making skills.

If you work for a firm and you are competing with others to make partner, if your employment contract demands a minimum number of billable hours, you may have little choice, at least in your current job. But if you’re self-employed, you have options and you may want to explore them.

You may find, as I did when I cut my work week, that you are more focused, more productive, and earn more income. The question is, how low can you go?

If you earn more (and are happier) working forty hours instead of fifty, will you earn more still if you cut your work week to thirty hours? How about twenty?

Is the four-hour work week possible for a professional?

It might be fun to find out.

The key to earning more and working less is leverage

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More about goal setting (and goal getting)

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Last week I talked about breaking up your big, long-term goals into short-term activities. You can’t “do” a goal, you can only do the activities that help you achieve it.

But sometimes, you find yourself intimidated by the immensity of a project and you procrastinate. Or you start but find it taking too long and give up.

If you’ve ever planned to update your website, create a new presentation, or start a new marketing campaign, for example, and found yourself putting these on the back burner, you know what I mean.

The key to doing a big project is to break it up into small tasks.

Let’s say your goal is to write a book. The first step is to break up that goal into a series of mini-goals: brainstorming topics, writing an outline, completing the first draft, and so on. Each mini-goal is less daunting and more doable. As you complete each mini-goal, you take a step closer to achieving the bigger goal.

Okay, you know this. No doubt you do it. You put the big goal at the top of the page and write a list of tasks or mini-goals underneath. But if you’re like most busy professionals, you still may find yourself procrastinating, or starting and abandoning projects.

The solution is to take each of your tasks or mini-goals and break it up into even smaller parts. The smaller the task, the more likely you are to do it.

Instead of a goal to write a 2,000-word chapter, for example, break it up into four 500-word sub-chapters or sections. Writing 500 words on a narrow aspect of the chapter’s subject is much easier than writing an entire chapter. If you know your subject, you can probably write those words in a matter of minutes.

Smaller tasks are easier to start because you can see the finish line. You won’t be as likely to procrastinate when you know you can complete the task in fifteen or twenty minutes.

But here’s something else: Smaller goals allow you to achieve more goals. You don’t have to wait until you finish a chapter to feel good about your progress, you can have that feeling each time you finish a sub-chapter. Each time you do, your brain gives you a shot of endorphin, you feel good and are motivated to write the next section.

Mini-goals also motivate you to continue working when you find yourself getting tired or distracted. You’ll push yourself to write “one more section” because you know it will only take a few more minutes.

This is how you build momentum and get the project done.

Whatever the project or goal, break it up into smaller parts or mini-goals, the smaller the better. When you have a few minutes between appointments, you can check off another mini-goal and take a step closer to accomplishing the big goal.

How to get referrals, step-by-step

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Planning your day made simple

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Here’s a simple method for planning your day. It’s just three lists, which fit nicely on a single piece of paper:

(1) MUST DO

This includes appointments and scheduled tasks, anything with a deadline or due date, and your core work tasks.

If it’s on your calendar (or should be), it’s a “Must Do”. If it is a core function of your work, e.g., returning phone calls, replying to letters and emails, reviewing and preparing documents, and so on, it also goes on your Must Do list.

(2) SHOULD DO

Your Should Do list contains 1-3 important tasks that bring value to your clients or to yourself and help you make progress towards achieving your goals.

These are discretionary tasks and projects and often don’t have an immediate payoff. That’s why people procrastinate on them, and why they need to be on your Should Do list.

Should Do tasks include things like writing articles, creating presentations, contacting prospective referral sources, and other marketing and management tasks. Should Do tasks can be grouped together, i.e., “call three clients to touch base”.

You might want to designate ONE of your Should Do tasks as your “Most Important Task” (MIT) of the day. Think of it this way: If you only did this one thing today, you would be satisfied.

(3) COULD DO

Anything else. Choose up to 5 additional tasks to do after you have done everything in the first two categories. These aren’t important but they may be necessary, e.g., errands, organizing files, additional research.

You should also maintain a running list or notebook with someday/maybe projects, ideas, and other things you’re not ready to do. Go through this list regularly and add tasks to your “Should Do” and “Could Do” lists.

At the end of each day, if you haven’t done everything on your three lists, add them to your next day’s lists.

If you have done everything on your three lists, you can either dip into your idea notebook for additional tasks or go home. You’ve had a great day.

I use Evernote to collect ideas and someday/maybes

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Better routines help you earn more without working more

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What’s the first thing you do when you get to the office in the morning? After you hang up your jacket and grab another cup of coffee, do you check your phone messages next? Take a look at the calendar? Dig through the mail?

One thing I tried to do as soon as I got to the office was review and sign letters and documents and give them back to my secretary. I wanted to keep her busy because I knew she would be back with another pile of things for me to review before the day was done.

So what’s your routine?

You have one, you know. Just as you have routines for interviewing new clients, writing demand letters, and getting ready for trial. You have routines for writing articles, cleaning up your desk at the end of the day, and preparing to go out of town.

The question is, do your routines serve you?

Are they efficient, helping you to get more done in less time? Do they make your staff’s job easier? Do they help you minimize errors? Do they give your clients the right impression?

Better routines help you streamline your work flow so you can earn more without working more.

Think about what you do throughout the day and how you might improve your routines. Consider preparing checklists, forms, and form letters or templates, or updating the ones you already have.

After you’ve gotten another cup of coffee, of course.

Earn more by delegating more

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Laziness is contagious. Here’s why that’s good news

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In their never-ending quest to master the subject, French researchers recently determined that laziness is contagious.

If your co-workers tend to take things slow and easy, you’re likely to pick up on their body language, pace, and other cues, and slow down.

It’s like yawning. When someone else does it, you’re likely to do it, too. Humans are apparently wired to mirror the behavior of those around us.

Anyway, why is this good news? It’s good news because if laziness is contagious, the inverse must also be true. Hang around people who work hard and get things done and you’ll be more likely to do the same.

I used to work with a guy who filled his days with non-stop meetings and phone calls. I spent a day with him once and his pace was exhausting. Just when I thought it was time to wind down our day, off he went making more calls.

I’d never be able to keep up with his pace but if we worked together every day, I’m sure I would get more done than I usually do. Just as laziness is contagious, so is industriousness.

In the study, the researchers asked participants to perform certain tasks in front of other participants. They also tested for traits like risk-taking and patience. They found that most of the participants adjusted their behavior to coincide with what they saw other participants do.

Clearly, our environment plays a significant role in our performance.

This is consistent with the “Law of Association,” which says we become like the people with whom we associate most. We adopt many of their habits, opinions, and behaviors. Our achievements and income tend to parallel theirs.

Think about the five people you associate with most and you’ll probably see that this is so.

The lesson is that if you want to achieve more, you should spend more time with high achievers. If you want to increase your income, insinuate yourself into the lives of people who earn more.

Spend more time with people who have what you want and less time with people who don’t.

Learn how to get more referrals from someone who knows how to get more referrals

 

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Do less

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You’re smart. Good at your job. Successful. But you want to be more successful so you do what most people do, you look for ways to do more.

More clients. More projects. More work.

To fit it all in, you look for ways to work faster and get bigger results.

You get busier and busier. You have less time and more stress. You’re frustrated because you’re doing more but not achieving more.

You’ve reached a point of diminishing returns.

It’s time for a different approach.

Instead of doing more, do less.

Take things off your calendar and to-do list. Start fewer projects. Make fewer commitments. Have fewer conversations.

Make room for what’s important and what you do especially well.

You’ll have more time to do more important things and more time to build on your strengths. You’ll have more energy, less stress, and fewer distractions. You’ll make fewer mistakes, waste fewer hours, and make better decisions.

You’ll build stronger relationships with key people. You’ll complete projects that take you to higher levels.

You’ll achieve more by doing less.

Get busy doing less.

Work smarter. Leverage your professional relationships to get more referrals

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Walk a mile in the other guy’s pants

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Whenever I set up IKEA furniture, the first thing I do is take everything out of the box, spread it out on the floor, and examine and count all of the parts. I make sure I have everything I’m supposed to have before I begin.

Then, I turn to the first page of the instructions and start with step one.

This helps me work quickly and ensures that I don’t leave anything out.

I followed a similar process in my law practice, using forms and checklists to open and close files, manage documents and correspondence and the calendar, and otherwise make sure I didn’t forget anything. (No computers, then. Fun times.)

I’ve seen more than a few attorneys who don’t do use forms or checklists. When they interview a new client, they grab a legal pad and start asking questions.

When I have a writing project, anything longer than a few pages, I organize my ideas and notes and write a simple outline before I begin. Some writers prepare highly detailed outlines, while others prefer to start with nothing more than an idea.

Some are plotters. Some are pantsers—writing by the seat of their pants.

The point is that everyone has their own way of doing things. Do what works for you.

But. . . do yourself a favor. Make a point of looking at the methods used by other people and try some of them.

If you usually fly by the seat of your pants in your work flow, give checklists a try. If you’re organized to a fault, try winging some things. If you follow a specific task management system or have a preferred writing app, try some others every once in awhile.

Your way may work for you. But you might find something that works even better.

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